The Journal Gazette
Thursday, May 21, 2020 1:00 am

Coronavirus roundup

GAO: Nursing home flaws predated virus

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Before COVID-19 killed thousands of nursing home residents, about 4 in 10 homes inspected were cited for infection control problems, according to a government watchdog report Wednesday that finds a “persistent” pattern of lapses.

The report from the Government Accountability Office found that state inspectors who help enforce federal nursing home standards classified the overwhelming majority of violations as not severe, generally meaning there was no actual harm to residents.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services carried out enforcement actions for 1% of violations classified as not severe from 2013 to 2017, the report said.

Nursing homes ended up bearing the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak. About 1.4 million people live in some 15,500 facilities in the United States. Most of those people were already at higher risk due to age and medical history, and they also shared dining rooms, recreation areas, bathrooms and sleeping quarters.

An ongoing count by The Associated Press has found that outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have killed more than 30,000 people, more than one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the country.

The GAO report found that about 40% of the nursing homes inspected in each of the past two years were cited for problems with infection control and prevention.

14 health workers rescued in Mexico

Officials in Mexico City say they have rescued 14 health workers who had come to the capital to help battle COVID-19 and were subjected to what's called a “virtual kidnapping” in order to demand money from their families.

The city prosecutor's office said in a communique late Tuesday that the health workers were located in two hotels in the Tacubaya district when police were searching for another kidnap victim.

The Mexican Social Security Institute said the workers were threatened via phone or video calls, with the criminals claiming they had control of the hotel surveillance cameras and warning the workers would be attacked if they tried to leave. Meanwhile, the criminals called the workers' relatives and “inform them that they were holding their family members and if they didn't deposit a certain quantity of money, would do them harm,” according to the prosecutor's office.

Trump aid sought in spat with tribes

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday she is appealing to President Donald Trump's administration in her standoff with two American Indian tribes over coronavirus checkpoints they set up on federal and state highways.

Noem said at her daily briefing that she has sent affidavits and video to the White House, the Department of Justice, the Interior Department and her state's congressional delegation, asking for help resolving the dispute. “This is not taking sides. This is simply upholding the law,” the Republican governor said.

Harold Frazier, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told Noem in a letter last week that the tribe would consider her request to restrict checkpoints to tribal roads. But he made it clear to The Associated Press that he believes the tribe's sovereignty allows it to operate the checkpoints.

Pence meets with Florida tourism

Face masks. Temperature checks. Social distancing markers. These are the new safety measures Florida's largest industry is adopting as battered tourism start reopening, industry leaders told Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Theme park executives, restaurant owners and hoteliers told the vice president at a roundtable discussion that the damage caused by shutdowns from the virus was unprecedented in a $86 billion industry that survived travel declines after the 9/11 attacks and the recession a dozen years ago.

Pence's Wednesday visit coincided with the limited reopening of an entertainment complex at Walt Disney World – the area's biggest tourist destination. Walt Disney World and crosstown rivals Universal Orlando and SeaWorld have been closed since mid-March in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Interim SeaWorld CEO Marc Swanson told Pence that he expected to be open in June.

Aid groups seek US lead on hunger

With global hunger projected to increase dramatically this year as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, humanitarian relief experts are calling on the U.S. government to play a leadership role in ensuring that global food supply lines remain open.

Foreign aid organizations want Congress to include $12 billion in additional international assistance in the next coronavirus emergency spending bill it sends to the president. But even more than monetary assistance, U.S. leadership is needed to discourage other countries from erecting trade barriers to agricultural exports and to keep global supply lines running, these groups told CQ Roll Call.

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